May 25, 2017
In February of 2016, I had been assigned to write a piece about fashion’s current enfants terribles, Vetements. Limited in my Parisian connections, I made a valiant attempt to access the designers which ended up not being quite intrepid enough. Close but no cigarette, I was stymied when the Gvasalias split to see Kanye West in New York instead staying in Paris to talk to me.
However over the course of that project I managed to pull together a lot of research and thought about the Vetements phenomenon. I was able to turn that trash into treasure in my September 2016 Globe Style Advisor column.
“Everybody is talking about Vetements,” sang the headlines last winter. The new Paris-based label captured the imagination of fashion insiders with ironically humble offerings – deconstructed Levi’s jeans, T-shirts and hoodies with blatently appropriated logos – and a bracing, unglamorous aesthetic. In July, Vetements showed its spring 2017 collection two months early. It was entirely made up of collaborations with 18 other brands including Canada Goose, Manolo Blahnik and Juicy Couture. With its latest critically acclaimed offering, Vetements passed through fashion’s precarious fad phase to become a bonafide bellwether for the industry.
So why is Vetements so important? In one word: postcapitalism. Journalist Paul Mason wrote a book called Postcapitalism, identifying a variety of features that characterize this emerging economic phenomenon, all of which Vetements embodies both structurally and aesthetically. One is the devaluation of intellectual property via an abundance of information that cannot be controlled. In fashion, this manifests itself by one brand taking another brand’s name in vain, such as when Vetements spun a bastardized version of a Champion hoodie for spring 2016 without the athletic wear label’s permission. Another aspect of postcapitalism is collaborative production instead of competition. For next spring, Vetements worked with Champion, combining resources to the benefit of both parties.
Postcapitalism also prizes sustainability over perpetual growth. To this end, Vetements imposes maximums on wholesale orders instead of minimums so clothing sells at full price and waste is reduced. And, perhaps most importantly, postcapitaism develops within the existing economic system. The current ready-to-wear schedule as introduced in the 1960s is no longer functioning rationally, resulting in a huge volume of useless product, exploited labour and wasted time. Much like modifying an old hoodie design into a relevant product again, Vetements is simply modifying existing industrial infrastructure so it makes sense.
Guram Gvasalia, the business mind behind Vetements, published an unusual book in 2013 called Size Zero: A Guide to Spiritual Management. The title hints at the heightened awareness of trends, values and economics that have made the label a quick success. Irreverent and practical, postcapitalism aims to liberate consumers from tradition with truth. And that’s why we’re still talking about Vetements.